5 months after my son died, I found myself standing in the doorway of my boss’s cubicle. I had been back at work for several weeks, and while inside I felt like I was about to explode, I was good enough at hiding the grief that I could navigate the office. We were discussing the workload with intermittent mini-discussions of our personal lives.
“Anything else?” she asks, casting her eyes down at my belly for a fraction of a second.
“Nope, that’s it,” I lie through my teeth.
“OK,” she replies, swiveling her chair around to face her computer. I quickly hoofed it back to my cubicle.
Most people at work knew I was pregnant already. Week after week I walked into work, belly bigger than it was the week before, and no one said one word. They were too afraid to ask and I was too afraid to tell. What would people think? I just lost my son, and here I was pregnant again??
For parents who have lost a young child, the concept of having another baby can present itself early in the grieving process. The decision is not an easy one, in no small part due to the social backlash it can create among friends, family and coworkers. A common misconception is that the new baby was brought into the world to replace the old one, a belief that may also be held on a subconscious level by the parents themselves.
I knew the majority wouldn’t understand. My husband and I had no control over what happened to our son, but we could control how we wanted our life to be moving forward. At age 39, I didn’t have years to wait if I wanted to ultimately raise two kids. We would never get over losing our son, and how long did I want to wait to create the life we wanted? We decided to go for it. While it made sense for us, I still felt afraid of talking about it. It ended up not being discussed by anyone but the people who really knew me.
Losing a child is one of the most devastating types of trauma, and creating a life afterwards comes with an equally heavy helping of complication. I was terrified of losing the baby, checking for movements constantly, asking for additional testing to make sure the baby was healthy. Our son died in an accident when he was 1 from a traumatic brain injury. There was no reason to believe this baby wouldn’t be healthy, but the regular pregnancy hormones along with a dash of PTSD from losing a child can send you into a vortex of paranoia. Who would this kid even be? Did we make the right choice? What about our living child? How will she feel about having a new sibling? None of these questions could be answered with any certainty until the baby was actually here.
The grieving process changes and evolves over the parent’s lifetime, but it never goes away. A parent must realize that having another baby creates a new path in life. It does not fix the loss, but it can create an immeasurable amount of love that is separate from the grief. For parents trying to rebuild a family after such an immense loss, the concept that they would attempt to replace a human being adds insult to injury. When the unique connection between a parent and child is severed through death, another baby creates a brand new connection with a new human being, completely separate and different from the old connection. While the new connection can be incredibly healing, the grief surrounding the loss is not lessened and requires constant attention. When you lose a child, you never “move on”, but you can move forward.
At 17 weeks, I finally told my boss. “I know,” she said. “I was pretty sure that bump wasn’t sandwiches.” Thankfully, she understood, but not everybody did. As the pregnancy became obvious to absolutely everyone in the office, I know some coworkers just couldn’t wrap their head around it. That’s OK. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to, either, if I hadn’t lost a child.
The new baby, a son, is now 3 months old. He is not a replacement, but a new path in our life. He is his own little amazing self who I already cannot imagine living without. I still think constantly about the son we lost. We incorporate him into our family on a daily basis, as he will always be so much a part of it. I look at our little 3 month old and marvel at how magical, and delicate, life is. There are no guarantees in this world. We had no idea what it would really be like to have another baby when the hurt from losing another one was so overwhelming. But to see him here reminds me that while death can come unexpectedly, with no warning at all, that life happens too, and when it does, it is glorious.